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Sunday, Nov 23, 2014
Movies

Big-league actress to teach craft at Tampa theater fest

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Men have been known to melt in the presence of model and actress Tasha Smith.

Rory Lawrence vomited.

It wasn’t a reaction to her looks, certainly, but to how hard this star of Tyler Perry productions can push as a teacher of aspiring actors.

Lawrence, a 39-year-old Lakeland native, actor, playwright and theater producer, encountered her at a workshop she ran in Atlanta.

“I’d never been asked to push myself so far as an artist,” Lawrence said. “She wanted us to go so deep into ourselves and so deep into understanding the characters and I wasn’t sure I could do it. I thought I was out of my league and got so intimidated that I ran to the bathroom and vomited.”

But he made it through and came out a more confident actor. A week later, he said, he booked his first of many leads in film and theater.

Six years later, Lawrence wants thespians in the Tampa Bay area to gain the same experience.

He is bringing Smith to his inaugural Tampa Bay Theatre Festival Aug. 29-31. She will conduct a one-day actor’s “boot camp” starting 9 a.m. Aug. 30 at Stageworks Theatre in Tampa’s Channel District.

The cost is $95 and tickets can be purchased at the festival website.

“It’s going to be a lot,” Smith said. “You’re going to learn how to study scenes, develop characters, proper audition techniques, and emotional preparation. I am going to give everything I can within that one day.”

Besides Smith’s acting class, the weekend festival will also include five full-length plays, a short-play competition, a monologue competition, workshops on improvisation and playwriting, an open-mic night and networking events.

Everything takes place either at Stageworks or the nearby Straz Center.

In each event, there is a chance Smith will show up and share her experience.

“I am a people person,” Smith said. “I’m going to want to hang out, experience the festival and see the city. I’m excited about helping the festival bring more arts to the city and to help actors pursue their purpose in the arts.”

Lawrence founded the Tampa Bay Theatre Festival with those two motives in mind.

He wants to expose the city to shows that wouldn’t otherwise come to Tampa. And he wants to give those interested in a theatrical career — in front of the curtain or behind it — a chance to learn more about the industry.

“That’s how we can get Tampa’s theater scene to grow,” Lawrence said. “Get more people interested in producing theater or going to the theater.”

The main lesson Smith wants to convey is “how to take a dump,” she said, “an emotional one.”

“If you didn’t go to the bathroom for a week, how would you feel?” she asked with a chuckle. “Well, if you are emotionally constipated you cannot act to the best of your ability.”

It’s a concept she has talked about recently as a guest on “The Arsenio Hall Show.” It’s akin to an athlete stretching, she said. Before thespians tackle their scenes, they need to open up to someone about everything negative on their mind.

“You do not want that negativity constipating your mind,” Smith said. “You have to be free of it.”

Said Lawrence, “Tasha Smith has had an amazing career. She has so much to offer from her experiences that you’d be foolish not to want to learn from her.”

The 43-year-old Smith is a native of Camden, N.J., a city with one of the nation’s highest crime rates, where she was raised with two sisters by their single mother.

Smith was funny and she could act. Those skills helped her to a career in Hollywood.

She may be best known for portraying Angela Williams in Tyler Perry’s films “Why Did I Get Married?” and “Why Did I Get Married Too?” She currently stars in the spinoff television series “Tyler Perry’s For Better or Worse.”

She has also appeared in the films “Couples Retreat” alongside Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn, “The Whole Ten Yards” with Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry, and Angela Bassett’s “Jumping the Broom.”

Her television credits include “Boston Common,” “Nip/Tuck” and “Chicago Hope.” She has also served as an on-air acting coach on “America’s Next Top Model.”

Smith credits her success to continually learning her craft through classes taught by other acting coaches.

“Just because you’ve had some success doesn’t mean you’re too good to practice. When a boxer becomes a champ, does he stop training for his fights? The best in the business still go to acting classes, from Nicole Kidman to Halle Berry.”

Lawrence said he recruited a coach from outside Tampa Bay, which has many excellent coaches, so local students can learn different approaches to the craft, and because Smith has never taught here before.

“When I went to her boot camp I had to pile into a car with my friends and share a hotel room in Atlanta,” he said. “I want Tampa to experience her class without having to leave home.”

pguzzo@tampatrib.com

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